We are doing science for policy
The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
The Katowice Climate Change Conference (COP24), which ended last week, finalised the rules for implementing the Paris climate agreement, which aims to keep the increase in global temperatures well below 2oC above pre-industrial levels by 2100.
A Special Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which informed the discussions at the conference, concluded that limiting the increase to 1.5oC would substantially reduce the risk and effects of climate change. This is the target that the EU and others members of the High Ambition Coalition (a group of developed and developing countries sharing the highest level of ambition in the international climate talks) have signed up to achieve.
As the biggest source of non-CO2 anthropogenic emissions (mainly methane and nitrous oxide from livestock production), the agricultural sector needs to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions if the 1.5oC target is to be achieved.
How agriculture can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions
The JRC, together with a group of scientists from top-level research centres in Europe, estimated the potential contribution of global agriculture to a more decarbonised economy under various scenarios, identifying the extent to which each emission source, region and mitigation mechanism could contribute to the reduction of GHG emissions.
Their paper – published in Nature Climate Change today - suggests that innovations in emission-reduction technologies and structural changes in livestock production would be required to reach emission reductions in agriculture that are needed to achieve the ambitious 1.5oC climate change target. New technologies such as high-tech tractors, better application of fertilisers and more efficient livestock breeding are examples of such measures.
The study also considers a shift in diets towards recommended maximum levels of animal-based calorie intake in developed and emerging countries. Reducing consumption of livestock products to recommended levels would enable a significantly greater reduction of non-CO2 emissions, with relatively low mitigation costs.
To estimate cost-efficient emission mitigation potential, economic models use carbon prices as a proxy for the costs of implementing different policy measures for GHG emission reduction. The researchers adopted a multi-model assessment approach to estimate the mitigation potential of agriculture up to 2070, comparing the effect of different global carbon prices on agricultural non-CO2 emissions.
The study results show that, at the high carbon prices that would be necessary to achieve the 1.5oC target, agriculture has the potential to make annual emission savings of about 3.9 Gigatonnes of CO2 equivalents by 2050, which represents around 8% of current global GHG emissions.